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Roswell judge’s race fields four candidates
by Joan Durbin
jdurbin@neighbornewspapers.com
March 26, 2014 03:11 PM | 2504 views | 1 1 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roswell is holding a special election on May 20 to pick its new magistrate. During the 32 years Maurice Hilliard was on the bench, a contested race for Roswell municipal judge was almost unheard of.

“The last time someone ran against me was Jere Wood, and that was around 20 years ago,” Hilliard said last week.

But with Hilliard’s resignation last year, and council’s decision to let the judge’s position continue be an elected one rather than appointed, four candidates have stepped forward to succeed him.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a glimpse into who they are and what they believe.

Name: 

Leslie M. Donaho

 Address/subdivision: Stonebridge Subdivision

Age: 37 years

How long lived in Roswell: 11 Years

Current position:

Assistant Solicitor General, Cherokee County

 

Professional background:

As an attorney, I have always worked as a prosecutor assigned a misdemeanor caseload, which are the exact types of cases handled in Roswell Municipal Court.  I am in my fifth year as a prosecutor in Cherokee County and previously worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Paulding County for three years. 

A prosecutor must evaluate the facts to ensure a defendant’s rights have not been violated, and to determine if sufficient evidence exists to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  At case disposition, a prosecutor must recommend a sentence, based on the facts and the defendant’s criminal history.  These decisions are similar to that used by a judge during motions to suppress, bench trials and sentencing.

Proudest professional accomplishment:

I am proud to have found success as a prosecutor while also fulfilling my responsibilities as a mother. While both roles are demanding and stressful, the benefits of each far outweigh any costs. I am blessed to have found that elusive balance between career and family, and proud of my accomplishments professionally and personally.

Why you decided to run:

I decided to run because Roswell deserves a fair, experienced, community-minded judge. My career focus has been on the needs of the community, so I am best suited of all the candidates to serve as Roswell’s judge.

 

Opinion on the importance of municipal judges to the community:

The municipal court handles traffic offenses including DUIs, other misdemeanor crimes including marijuana cases, and ordinance violations. The role of a municipal judge is to provide sanctions for violations of these laws, tempered with compassion, while working within the confines of the law. 

While it’s important for any judge to maintain a professional working relationship with other elected officials, judges must also recognize their role in government.  A judge must maintain neutrality and avoid political entanglements, while interpreting and applying the laws created by the legislative branch. While officials serving in these capacities must work together to ensure the government is functioning properly, their roles are very distinct and separate.

Name:

Melanie Ellwanger

Address/subdivision: Willow Oak Way, Centennial

Age: 31

How long lived in Roswell: 3.5 years

Current position: Sole Practitioner, Melanie M. Ellwanger, Attorney at Law

Professional background:

After law school, I joined the Forsyth County Solicitor General’s Office as an assistant solicitor general where I prosecuted thousands of traffic and misdemeanor offenses. During my 3 years with Forsyth County, I was named a senior prosecuting attorney and also prosecuted in the DUI Court program.

In March 2010, I joined Head Thomas Webb and Willis in Sandy Springs as an associate attorney, where I defended the same types of cases, misdemeanor criminal and traffic offenses that I had prosecuted in Forsyth County. I was named a senior associate in the firm and I practiced in courts throughout the state of Georgia. The experience exposed me to nearly 100 judges in various courts all across Georgia. This greatly broadened my depth of knowledge of court practices, plus allowed me to observe court efficiencies and inefficiencies in various jurisdictions.

Proudest professional accomplishment:

Being named a Super Lawyers Rising Star by my peers in the Georgia Bar, as reported in Georgia Super Lawyers magazine in 2013 and 2014. The Rising Star accolade is given based on a blind selection by Georgia’s top attorneys and judges and is reserved for attorneys under the age of 40. Fewer than 2.5 percent of that category of Georgia attorneys are selected as a Rising Star. I have also achieved a “Superb” rating (highest quality category) by AVVO.com, another national lawyer rating service.

Why you decided to run:

The idea of one day seeking judicial office first came to me while I was in law school. I decided to focus my career of the areas of law that would best prepare me to achieve this goal, and criminal law was that type of practice. The majority of current Georgia judges have “ex-prosecutor” in their resumes, so that field of specialization is where I sought to work. I knew that practicing criminal law exclusively would give me both the knowledge and experience to sit as a judge.

Because I have been able to practice on both sides of a criminal courtroom (prosecuting and defending) I am able to truly understand all aspects of cases that will be brought before me. Furthermore, the full time position as judge in Roswell will allow me focus on a path of providing needed “education” on the pitfalls of alcohol and drugs and will provide me with an opportunity to speak to young people at middle schools and high schools on issues of making better choices in their lives, so as to not become part of the criminal justice system.

Opinion on the importance of municipal judges to the community:

Essentially, the role of a judge is to be a referee between opposing parties who come before her or him in Court. A judge must be fair and impartial when listening to facts and deciding the outcome of a case. A judge should treat every person who enters the courtroom the same, regardless of his or her personal world views or ideas.

The judge must have autonomy from political influence, because the justice system requires neutrality and conformity to the highest ethical standards without favor or partiality from outside pressures. That being said, Georgia law and local ordinances often mandate more punishment for a repeat offender, and I will positively enforce those laws to fit each defendant’s circumstances and facts, when a conviction is warranted.

Name:  Brian A. Hansford

Address/subdivision:   Heydon Hall subdivision

Age: 43

How long lived in Roswell: 15 years

 

Current position:

Currently presiding as a judge in the Roswell and Milton municipal courts.  Also a partner in the firm of Miles, Patterson, Hansford, Tallant, LLP.  

 

Professional background:  

I have been licensed to practice law in Georgia for 15 years and have been a sitting judge for over seven years.  Over the span of my career I have served as a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge. 

 

Proudest professional accomplishment: 

My seven years of service on the bench is the accomplishment of which I am most proud.

 

Why you decided to run: 

I consider my service as a judge as the means by which I pay my civic rent and certainly feel a strong desire to continue to do so in Roswell, given that it is my hometown.  

I am the only candidate in this race who has experience as a judge and since 2007 I have enjoyed serving on the bench in Roswell, Milton and Alpharetta.  For the last seven months my work as a judge has been heavily focused on presiding in the Roswell Municipal Court, after the retirement of the former chief judge.  

It is because of my experience that I feel I have a unique perspective into how to balance the need to protect the citizens of our community with the necessity of administering a court that is fair and even-handed to all who come before it.  

Most of all, I want to continue to ensure that the Roswell Municipal Court will serve the people of our community with compassion, equality and efficiency.

Additionally, during my time on the bench in Roswell I have observed that it is only necessary for the court to be in session two days per week.   As a Roswell taxpayer myself, I do not believe that the citizens of our community should be forced to pay a judge the current salary of over $95,000 annually to preside just two days of each week.  Therefore, one of my goals, if elected, is to ask the mayor and city council to rescind the current salary and implement an arrangement by which the judge is only paid for the periods of time the court is in session, thereby, reducing waste of taxpayer resources.

 

Opinion on the importance of municipal judges to the community:

A municipal court judge must be cognizant of the needs of the community in which he/she serves and be able to balance those needs with the rights of the parties that come before the court.  This balance can only be achieved by a judge with experience and who possesses a clear academic understanding of the criminal legal process and of the constitutional rights that must afforded to those who have been accused of a crime, while also recognizing, on a more pragmatic level, the specific issues that may be important to the safety and well-being of the people within the community. 

I would not say that it is necessary for a judge to share identical ideas and/or world views with the residents or elected officials within a given jurisdiction in order to effectively dispense justice.  In fact, in my opinion, that would be impossible in a city like Roswell, which has over 93,000 citizens residing within its borders, all of whom likely posses diverse and varied opinions about such topics.  

What is important for a judge to clearly understand is that his/her role is only to interpret and apply the laws created and implemented by the legislative branch of the government. Judges should never attempt to “legislate” from the bench and should have a healthy respect for the authority that has been bestowed

Name: 

John Monroe

Address/subdivision:  Coleman Road, Roswell.  

Age:  53

How long lived in Roswell: 14 years

 Current position:

I own my own law practice in Roswell, where I do civil rights litigation, criminal defense, and general legal practice, concentrating on protecting the constitutional rights of my clients.

 

Professional background: 

I have practiced law for almost 21 years and have done just about every kind of case that does not require extreme specialization, including contracts, felony and misdemeanor defense, bankruptcy, family law, administrative law, personal injury, landlord-tenant, debtor-creditor, nuisance, real estate, business litigation, federal tort claims, and civil rights. 

I have argued cases before the federal courts of appeal in Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver and I have filed briefs in the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

Proudest professional accomplishment:

I had a client who was given less than a week’s notice by the Georgia Department of Driver’s Services that her license would be suspended over the 4th of July weekend for failure to pay child support, even though she owed no child support, her child was an adult, and her ex-husband (to whom she supposedly owed child support) was deceased.  I was able to get an injunction against the state before the holiday to prevent the suspension of her license and ultimately got an order for the state to pay her attorney’s fees for violating her right to due process.

 

Why you decided to run: 

I strongly resisted efforts by the city council to change the judgeship from an elected position to an appointed one.  I felt strongly that the people of Roswell should continue to elect their judge and that appointing a judge, who would be under the common control by the city with the police department, would be unconstitutional.  It strikes me as fundamentally unfair that the police, the prosecutor, and the judge all would be controlled by a single entity, and the Georgia Constitution forbids it. 

After the proposal to appoint the judge was defeated, many people with whom I had worked encouraged me to run.  I have appeared enough times with clients in the Municipal Court of Roswell to see that there is significant room for improvement, primarily in the areas of respecting the time of the people who have to be in court and in making sure the laws of the city and state and followed within the bounds of the state and federal constitutions. 

Opinion on the importance of municipal judges to the community:

Even though judges are elected in most cases, they are not, and should not be, true politicians.  Professionally, they must put their personal beliefs aside concerning what the law ought to be, and apply the laws as enacted by legislatures at all levels of government without regard to whether the laws are “good” or “bad” in their views.  That often can result in a judge issuing a decision with which he personally disagrees, but that he is professionally compelled to reach. 

Judges should share the same ideas or world view as others at a high level, meaning that judges have to have adopted and cherished our system of government.  On the other hand, it is less important that the judge share the local majority’s view on the local political issues of the day. 

The judge’s job is to apply the laws enacted by the majority through their elected representatives, within the bounds of the state and federal constitutions.  It is immaterial whether the judge personally agrees with a specific ordinance.  He must apply the ordinance as passed, so long as it comports with the constitutions. 

In this way, the judge respects the power of the majority to pass laws while protecting the rights of the minority from unconstitutional enactments. 
Comments
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Mike Nyden
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March 27, 2014
While reviewing Mr. Monroe’s qualifications prior to engaging him to undertake a business issue, we were particularly pleased at the breadth of his background. (It is very much like John to fail to include among his background the fact that in addition to the jurisdictions noted, he is also licensed to practice law before the Supreme Court of the United States, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 7th, 10th, and 11th Circuits, the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Georgia, the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin, and the District of Colorado, and all the courts of the State of Georgia and the State of Wisconsin, including the courts of appeals and the Supreme Courts of those states.) Breadth of experience is vitally important in selecting any judge who needs, among other things, perspective.

Most cases reaching to those courts are complicated, but as Mr. Monroe will tell you, no more important than the person fighting a traffic ticket.

It is interesting that before his career in law, Mr. Monroe was an electrical engineer (graduated from Vanderbilt, in 1982), and a police officer. There is something to be said, I think, for life experience outside the courtroom.

I don’t know whether John would call his practice of the law a “calling”, but those of us who are familiar with his body of work are happy that he is running for Municipal Judge.

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